“How about this shirt?” I said to my daughter as we ransacked her room in search of a clean shirt.
“That's a fat shirt,” she stated and refused to wear it.
“A fat shirt? What does that mean?” I asked.
“It makes me look fat,” she responded. “And I don't want to look like that.”
Her words stung my ears and pierced my heart.
How at just six years old does she even know that awful “F” word?
Fat – the three letter word that might just be worse than any four letter word I've ever heard. And why on earth does she think it applies to her in any way?
I have made sure not to mention the things I dislike about my own body when she is around. In fact, I barely even mention those things at all. To anyone. I mean, what's the point? My baby belly and big nose are permanent fixtures on this old body of mine, so there's no use in complaining about them. They are here to stay, and to be honest, I've completely stopped caring about them.
I just didn't think we'd be here already. I didn't think her young mind would be constructing lies about body image while still in the early years of elementary school. And I didn't think I'd have to start helping her battle against whatever forces are leading her to believe she looks fat under any circumstances. At least not yet.
It breaks my heart she is being reeled into the trap of society's impossible standards, for I know what a difficult trap it is to break free from. In that moment, I felt powerless against the forces that I can't control. Although, I thought I had been doing a pretty good job controlling what messages have access to her tender mind. But apparently I can't control it all.
What else could I do but try to speak truth into her?
So we had a little chat about what makes her feel good about herself, what makes her feel pretty. She rattled off a handful of things. Her sparkly shirt, a ruffled skirt, the new bracelets that she had earned by doing a few chores. I breathed a sigh of relief when she didn't mention body size or shape.
And while her earlier comment didn't actually imply that she thinks she IS fat, I don't want her worrying about looking fat either. I don't want that word crossing her mind in any capacity.
So, I said, “It's fun to wear pretty clothes, isn't it? But you know what makes you even prettier?”
“What?” she asked.
“Kindness. Love. And treating people in a way that makes them feel good,” I responded.
“Oh, I didn't know that,” she said.
Just like she didn't know she is beautiful even when she is wearing her “fat” shirt. And just like she didn't know even if she does look fat, or actually is fat, she will still be beautiful.
So we will continue talking about true beauty. I will continue to compliment her outer beauty as well as her inner beauty. And I hope one day she will look in the mirror and be able to compliment herself. I pray she will see herself the way I see her. Beautiful, no matter what her size. And I pray her inner beauty becomes enough to overcome her outer flaws.